MLB Power Rankings: The 50 Strangest Superstitions and Rituals in Baseball

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: The 50 Strangest Superstitions and Rituals in Baseball

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    Sports and superstition go hand in hand, and there may be no group of athletes more superstitious than baseball players. There have been some real characters over the years who have been quirky to say the least.

    There are basic superstitions that many baseball players follow, more player-specific rituals, and even team- and organization-wide curses.

    So here are the 50 strangest superstitions and rituals in baseball history. Enjoy.

Never Step on the Foul Line

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    We'll start off with some of the more basic superstitions that multiple players follow, then we'll get into some quirkier, more player-specific ones.

    Perhaps the most common superstition, from little league to the majors, is avoiding stepping on the foul line when walking to and from the dugout.

    The origin of this superstition is unknown, and the idea that stepping on a chalk line could be unlucky is odd to say the least, but I among thousands of others never stepped on the line in a dozen years of playing baseball.

Always Step on the Foul Line

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    For every 10 players that refuse to ever step on the foul line, there is someone who makes sure to step on the line every chance he gets.

    I imagine this begins with a player trying to buck the belief that stepping on the line is bad luck, but instead, he becomes caught up in a superstition of his own.

Leaving the Pitcher Alone in the Dugout

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    Often, you see a starting pitcher joking around with teammates and chatting it up in the dugout, but never on the day of a start. In fact, most times, the pitcher can be found at the end of the bench, surrounded by empty seats, as it is commonplace to leave the pitcher alone during the game.

    Pitching may be the most mentally challenging job in all of sports, as it only takes one mistake to turn a game around, and no one wants to be the one to break his teammate's concentration.

You Don't Talk About a No-Hitter

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Leaving the pitcher alone during a start is commonplace, but if he has a no-hitter going, you might as well go sit in the other dugout. This superstition is one that stretches outside of the two dugouts, however.

    Broadcasters risk jinxing things if they reference the no-hitter during the game, so they find every way around saying the words "no-hitter" while still trying to alert the fans to what is happening.

    Last season, during Matt Garza's no-hitter with the Rays, the Rays' announcing team managed to go the entire game without specifically spelling out what was happening. A no-hitter is among the toughest feats in sports to accomplish, and it is easy to believe in jinxing it.

The Lucky Glove, Bat, Shirt, Hat or Necklace

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    Ask even the least superstitious player about his equipment, and chances are you will run into one piece that the player would not be caught dead at the ballpark without.

    Players are creatures of habit, and if something goes well, then they will do everything they can to match that success. That could mean wearing the same undershirt or hat, or using the same batting gloves even though they are beat up.

    Regardless of what it is, most players have a lucky something that can be found on them at all times.

Batting-Stance Rituals

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    While there are some unique rituals on this list that warrant their own slides, just the idea that it is important to repeat the way you approach an at-bat really is quite a superstition unto itself.

    Obviously you want to maintain your swing mechanics, but players adjust equipment, tap the plate, take practice swings and so on in the same way every time as more of a ritual than a necessity.

The Rally Cap

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    This superstition applies to players and fans alike, as turning one's hat inside out, upside down or just overall displaying it in a ridiculous way is done in an effort to bring some luck to the team as it tries to rally.

    The origin of this tradition is unknown, but go to any game where the home team is trailing by a few runs going into the final inning, and you will undoubtedly see a number of fans and perhaps even some bench players following this tradition.

Baseball Fiction: Roy Hobbs and "Wonderboy"

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    While they are not real players, the famous characters from baseball movies are still a part of this great game, and even as fictional characters, they are bound to superstitions just like their real-life counterparts.

    In The Natural, Robert Redford's character, Roy Hobbs, has a lucky bat that he calls "Wonderboy," made from a tree that was struck by lightning.

Baseball Fiction: Pedro Cerrano and Jobu

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    The movie Major League is about a group of misfit players who are brought in to run the Indians into the ground so the team can be moved out of Cleveland.

    Cerrano, played by Dennis Haysbert, is a slugger who is incapable of hitting breaking balls. He builds a shrine dedicated to Jobu, offering the god cigars and rum to help take the fear from his bats.

Baseball Fiction: Nuke LaLoosh and Abstinence

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    In the movie Bull Durham, Tim Robbins' character, Nuke LaLoosh (loosely based on Steve Dalkowski), finds himself in a relationship with Susan Sarandon's character, Annie.

    However, when he goes on a long road trip, he begins pitching better and the team begins winning, and Nuke attributes this to his period of abstinence.

Announcers Reference a Supposed Advantage that is Quickly Negated

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    Inevitably, over the course of a game, a batter or pitcher will find himself in a situation wherein he has a fantastic track record of success. A hitter may be facing a pitcher who he has never struck out against, or a pitcher may be dealing with a batter who he usually dominates. 

    Generally, the player would want to be in this favorable position, but it seems as though whenever the announcer points out such an advantage, it is quickly negated on the field. Either the batter goes down swinging against the pitcher he usually pounds, or the pitcher surrenders a home run to the hitter who has never touched him before.

    You hate to blame things on someone that has no direct effect on the game's outcome, but it seems as though announcers have the ability to jinx players.

Larry Walker: Obsession with the Number 3

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Walker was one of the best pure hitters in the league. He put up fantastic numbers as a member of the Expos and Rockies, and he did it while wearing No. 33.

    However, it was not just a favorite number for Walker. He set his alarm for 33 minutes past the hour each day, took his practice swings in sets of three and was even married on November 3rd at 3:33 PM.

    There's having a favorite number, and then there's taking it to the next level, and Walker certainly did that.

Barry Bonds: Kissed the Cross on His Necklace After Each HR

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    Bonds was not as superstitious as most of the guys on this list, and he really had no reason to be, as he was one of the best to ever play the game, even before he apparently got some help from the needle.

    He did have one superstition though: He kissed the golden cross on his necklace upon reaching home plate after each home run, then pointed to the sky.

David Ortiz: Spit and Hand Clap

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    Ortiz made his mark on baseball history as one of the best clutch hitters of all time with his fantastic playoff series against the Yankees in 2004 that helped propel the Red Sox to a World Series title.

    During each at-bat, he steps out of the box, tucks the bat under his arm, spits in his hands and claps.

Roger Clemens: Touching Babe Ruth Statue Before Each Start

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Clemens played for the Yankees from 1999–2003 and then again in 2007, and while he will be best remembered for his time with the Red Sox, it was not until he made his way to the Bronx that he picked up this superstition.

    Before each start he made at home, Clemens would visit Monument Park, where he would wipe his forehead and touch the Babe Ruth plaque. It was an odd way to pay a legend respect, if nothing else.

Mariano Rivera: "Enter Sandman"

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Rivera is undeniably the best closer in baseball history, and he will pass Trevor Hoffman late this year or early next year for the career saves record. Beyond that, he has an immaculate postseason resume and should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    When he enters a game at home, he walks to the mound with "Enter Sandman" by Metallica playing, and that has been as much a part of Yankees baseball as anything over the past decade-and-a-half.

Al Hrabosky: The Mad Hungarian

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    Hrabosky was a reliever, most notably with the Cardinals, during the 1970s, and he was the Sporting News Fireman of the Year in 1975, using an intimidating pre-pitch routine to psych himself up.

    Between each pitch, he would take a few steps toward second base behind the rubber, roll the ball between his hands, then pound the ball into his glove, turn around and stomp back toward the rubber. He said this helped him focus on pitching, and it drove hitters nuts.

Jason Giambi: Golden Thong To Break Slumps

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Giambi has been known to do whatever it takes to break out of a slump, and has proven to be rather superstitious throughout his career, growing his mustache out recently (apparently to help himself in Colorado).

    However, his strangest superstition was wearing a gold thong under his uniform to help himself break out of a slump. Word spread quickly of this, and he even began passing it around to other players when they were slumping.

Dick Stuart: Threw Gum Across Home Plate Before Each At-Bat

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    Stuart was a terrific power hitter during the late 1950s and early 1960s, hitting 220 home runs from 1958–1965, and topping the 30-home-run mark three times during that stretch for the Pirates and Red Sox.

    He had the habit of biting a piece of his gum off and throwing it across home plate before each at-bat, and while it seems like a fairly meaningless act, it apparently worked for him.

Rico Carty: Five Candles in the Hotel Room

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    Carty was an outfielder who posted good numbers over his 15-year career, with a .299 BA, 204 HR and 890 RBI. He also won a batting title in 1970, when he hit .366.

    He had the custom of floating five candle in the toilet and bathtub of his hotel room before games, believing that it would produce a five-hit game that day.

Nomar Garciaparra: Batting-Glove Adjustment

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    From his rookie year in 1997 until he left Boston in 2004, Nomar was among the best players in baseball, winning a pair of batting titles and making five All-Star appearances. His career fell off quickly, however, when he reached the age of 30, as injuries took their toll.

    That said, he had one of the most frustrating-to-watch rituals when he was at the plate, as he would adjust his batting gloves between each pitch, unhooking and hooking them over and over again very quickly.

    This was a habit he picked up in youth baseball, as he was forced to use his older brother's gear that was ill-fitting.

Cap Anson: Refusing To Speak to the Starting Pitcher

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    Anson was one of the premiere players during the early days of baseball, and he would become the player/manager for the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs) back in the 1880s, leading the team to five titles in seven years while putting up Hall of Fame numbers.

    While it is normal to leave a pitcher alone during his start, Anson took it one step further and flat-out refused to talk to the starting pitcher the day of the game.

Craig Counsell: Ridiculous Batting Stance

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    There are a variety of batting stances out there, and for the most part, no two players bat alike, but Counsell may have had the most ridiculous stance in baseball history throughout most of his career (although he did change it recently).

    In essence, he stood with his hands behind him and reached the bat as high as he could above his head. It was strange but effective, as he has had a 16-season career as a utility player, and is still going at the age of 40.

Reggie Jackson: Wore the Same Helmet Even After He Switched Teams

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Jackson is known as "Mr. October" for his postseason heroics as a member of the Yankees in 1977, when he had a three-home-run game in the World Series. His Yankee tenure came to an end following the 1981 season, when he signed with the Angels as a free agent.

    Not wanting to move away from what he considered to be his lucky batting helmet, he had the Yankees logo on the helmet painted over with the Angels logo so he could continue wearing it.

Jack Glasscock: Pebbles in the Back Pocket

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    Glasscock, a shortstop who played in the 1880s and 1890s—mostly for the Cleveland Blues—played 17 MLB seasons, and was one of the best hitting shortstops of his time. However, it was a habit he had in the field that earned him the nickname "Pebbly Jack."

    Before the days of full grounds crews and well-groomed fields, the infield was a place where bad hops were commonplace, and Glasscock took it upon himself to manicure his position. He always had a pocket full of pebbles, picked up from his post at shortstop.

Ron Wright: Shaved His Forearms

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    Wright, who played just one game in the major leagues back in 2002, is perhaps best known for his involvement in the trade that sent Denny Neagle from the Pirates to the Braves.

    One season, while he was in the minors, he suffered an injury to his arm and it had to be shaved so it could be taped. He then proceeded to go on an offensive tear, hitting three home runs in the next series.

    From that point on, he continued to shave his forearms.

Charlie Kerfeld: 'The Jetsons' T-Shirt

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    Kerfeld was a pitcher for the Astros back in the late 1980s, and he quickly became a fan favorite for his eccentric personality. He once wore a rubber Coneheads mask while sitting in the bullpen, and often wore ridiculous outfits when arriving to the stadium.

    However, he is best remembered for his lucky Jetsons shirt that he wore under his uniform. His reasoning for choosing the shirt was that the dog on the cartoon's name was Astro and he was pitching for the Astros.

Satchel Paige: Axle Grease Rub-Downs

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    Paige is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and it is truly a shame that he didn't get his chance to pitch in the big leagues during his prime (he played most of his career before the leagues were integrated).

    He was never short on memorable quotes, and his pregame ritual of having his throwing arm rubbed down with axle grease was an odd one, but he believed that it allowed him to pitch nine innings each time he took the mound.

Stan Musial: Same Breakfast Eaten in the Same Way

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    Musial was one of the top hitters in baseball history, racking up 16-straight seasons with an average over .300 and winning seven batting titles and three NL MVP awards in the process.

    You could attribute that success to his fantastic work ethic, or perhaps to the fact that he took the old adage "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" to heart.

    Every day, he had an egg, then two pancakes, then finished the meal with another egg. It seemed to work for him.

Glenn Davis: Reused Chewing Gum During Hitting Streaks

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Davis was one of the most feared power hitters of the 1980s, as he slugged at least 20 home runs six different times. In total, he launched 190 long-balls during his short, 10-year big-league career.

    He was also a firm believer in staying on a hot streak by any means necessary, and for him, that meant sticking with the chewing gum that was working. When he was hitting well, he would save his gum under the bill of his hat and continue chewing it until the hot streak was over.

Mark Fidrych: Manicuring the Mound

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    Fidrych was a character, to say the least. He would routinely talk to the ball and himself out on the mound, and had one of the more bizarre windups you'll ever see.

    However, when it came time for him to fill in the landing hole on the mound or dig out the rubber, he didn't just kick around some dirt—he went on hands and knees to get the mound just the way he wanted it.

Frank Viola: Fan Banner

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    Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

    Viola was one of the best starting pitchers of the 1980s, and he was pitching for the Twins in 1984 when he noticed a banner at home games that said "Frankie Sweet Music Viola." By 1987, he had met the man who was responsible for the banner, Mark Dornfield.

    He went on to go 15-0 with four no-decisions when the banner was present that season, and the Twins made it all the way to the World Series that year.

    When Voila found out that Dornfield did not have World Series tickets, he went out of his way to make sure he would be there, and he went on to win a pair of games and the MVP of the series, pitching in front of the banner.

Craig Biggio: Never Washed His Batting Helmet

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    Biggio is the last player to join the 3,000-hit club. He was the premier second baseman in the National League during the 1990s, and retired as arguably the best player in Astros history.

    Aside from consistently being hit by pitches—he's No. 1 all time in that statistical category—Biggio is perhaps best remembered for his filthy, pine-tar-covered helmet.

Mike Hargrove: Pre-Batter's-Box Ritual

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    When your pre-at-bat ritual takes so long that you earn yourself the nickname "The Human Rain Delay," then clearly you have gone from "routine" to something far more involved and elaborate.

    Hargrove would take a few steps up the first-base line, take some practice swings, then begin the routine that can be seen in the video, and he would do that between each pitch. He was not afraid to step out and start all over if you cut him short, either.

Willie Stargell: No Bat with His Name on It

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    Stargell was arguably the best slugger of the 1970s, launching 296 home runs during the decade and totaling 475 during his illustrious 21-year career.

    However, the bats he hit those long-balls with always had someone else's name on them; he would always order bats with teammates' names on them, never his own.

Greg Swindell: Lucky Fingernail

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Swindell, a starting pitcher turned reliever who pitched for 17 seasons and won 123 games, was an above-average starter to open his career with the Indians, winning 18 games in 1988.

    However, he had an interesting quirk.

    He had the not-so-normal habit of biting off the tip of one of his fingernails before each game, and then holding the nail in his mouth the rest of the time he was on the mound for good luck.

    Some guys chew gum, others chew tobacco, but all Swindell needed was a piece of fingernail to keep himself happy.

Kevin Rhomberg: Touch Him, and He Touched You Back

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    Rhomberg had a brief major-league career, playing in just 41 games over three seasons with the Indians from 1982–1984 and hitting an impressive .383 in 47 at-bats.

    However, his legacy in baseball will be his habit of having to touch everyone who touched him.

    If he was tagged out by a player, he would touch him on his way back to the dugout. Catchers tried to get in his head by touching him while he was batting, and teammates would tag him and run into the clubhouse and hide until he found them.

    It's just one of the strangest quirks in baseball history.

1894 Baltimore Orioles: Drank Turkey Gravy

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    The 1894 Orioles were a successful team, posting a record of 89-39 and winning the National League pennant. Everyone in the starting lineup hit over .300, and five players drove in over 100 runs.

    That impressive offense may be the result of an extremely odd tradition, as the entire team would sit down and chug a glass of turkey gravy before taking batting practice each game.

    Clearly this was before the days of Gatorade, but still, why gravy?

Wade Boggs: Ate Chicken Before Every Game

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    Boggs, a Hall of Famer and member of the 3,000-hit club, was one of the most superstitious athletes of all time. He woke up at the same time every day, took exactly 150 grounders each practice and took the same path from his position at third base to the dugout each inning.

    However, his consumption of a chicken dinner before every game is the ritual that stands out from the rest, and it's something that he will always be remembered for, along with his terrific career numbers.

Wade Boggs: Wrote the Hebrew Word "Chai" in the Dirt

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    Bernie Nunez/Getty Images

    While the chicken thing is probably Boggs' most memorable quirk, he also drew the Hebrew word "Chai" in the batter's box before each at-bat. The word means "life," and he did it religiously before entering the batter's box.

    He also had a routine in the field, as he would wipe the dirt in front of him with his left foot, tap his glove three times and adjust his hat.

Turk Wendell: Black Licorice Instead of Gum or Tobacco

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Wendell, best known for his time with the Cubs and Mets, was about as quirky as they come, and he earned himself a number of places on this list, so sit back and enjoy the man that is Turk Wendell for the next several slides.

    First off, instead of chewing tobacco or gum like most players, he crammed four pieces of black licorice into his mouth before taking the mound.

Turk Wendell: The Number 99

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    Wendell wore No. 99 in honor of Rick Vaughn, the character played by Charlie Sheen in Major League.

    He took it one step further, however, when he signed for $9,999,999.99 prior to the 2000 season.

Turk Wendell: Whipped the Rosin Bag at the Ground After Using It

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    While most of his antics were funny, it seemed as though he vented a bit of frustration any time he used the rosin bag, as he would full-on whip it at the ground after using it.

Turk Wendell: Had Umpire Roll Him the Ball

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    When he needed a new ball, or a foul ball was hit, Wendell insisted that the umpire roll the ball to him rather than just throwing it to him.

    If the umpire forgot and threw it to him by accident, he would let it go past him and then go pick it up or else he would just take it off the chest.

Turk Wendell: Waving to Center Fielder

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    At the start of each inning, before warming up or doing anything else, Wendell would wave to the center fielder until he got a wave back, then he would proceed to prepare for the inning.

Turk Wendell: Exaggerated Hop over the Foul Line

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    Many players believe it is bad luck to step on the foul line when entering and exiting the field, while others choose the other route and intentionally step on it each time.

    Wendell took it to the next level, as he made sure there was no chance of touching the foul line by taking an exaggerated hop over it.

Turk Wendell: Brushed His Teeth Between Innings

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    Wendell's strangest superstition was brushing his teeth in the dugout between innings.

    It's a simple act of hygiene that is rarely seen in the middle of a baseball game, but Upper Deck managed to capture the superstition on his rookie card.

Chicago White Sox: Curse of the Black Sox

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    While not as hyped up as the Red Sox's or Cubs' curse, the curse of the Black Sox—or the "Curse of Shoeless Joe," as it was also known—was yet another superstitious scapegoat for the failures of a franchise.

    After the Black Sox scandal in 1919, in which a number of Sox players were accused of throwing the series, the White Sox didn't win another pennant until 1959. They won again in 2005, when they finally broke through and won a World Series title over the Astros, just a year after the Red Sox broke their supposed curse.

Boston Red Sox: The Curse of the Bambino

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    Every organization has at least a handful of personnel decisions that fans cringe when they hear about. However, none top the Red Sox's decision to sell the greatest player in baseball history, Babe Ruth, to the Yankees prior to the 1920 season.

    For 86 years following the sale, the Red Sox went without a World Series title (after winning five in the few seasons prior to the move), while the Yankees went on to become arguably the most successful franchise in pro sports, and it all started with the acquisition of Ruth.

    Thankfully for Red Sox fans, the "curse" seems to have been lifted.

Chicago Cubs: Curse of the Billy Goat

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    It was Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, and Billy Sianis decided to take his pet goat along with him to the game with his second ticket. After originally being let into the stands, ushers stepped in and forced him and his goat to leave.

    That brought about a confrontation between Sianis and Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley, who said that "the goat stinks," to which Sianis responded loudly "the Cubs ain't gonna win no more!" The Cubs lost Game 4 and dropped the next two games to lose the series, and have not been to the World Series since.